Is the government ban on menthol cigarettes racist?

The government has become ever more vociferous in its efforts to safeguard us (from ourselves). This approach to dealing with its citizens as a guardian is reminiscent of “big brother” in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Perhaps it has taken us a few decades more, but it is clear we headed in that direction and momentum has picked up considerably under the Biden administration.

Every time the government sets a rule, it is a reduction of our freedom, regardless of how useful its perceived intent. Each incremental step removes a choice we once had, and it typically is done without just compensation. For example, the increase in fuel economy standards removes my ability to buy a less expensive less fuel-efficient car. A worthy goal perhaps, but it is a direct assault on my freedom of action. Collective interests trump individual choice and undermine personal responsibility.

The most recent example is the banning of menthol cigarettes. Not only is this a government overreach, but it is a racist policy at its core. This demonstrates the way in which “protective” policies can become subverted in the name of promoting our well-being into something far more sinister.

So how is the policy racist? Racism might be defined as a theory that “distinctive human characteristics and abilities are determined by race.”

The ban on an otherwise legal, albeit injurious, product has been justified substantially on the grounds that menthol cigarettes disproportionally impact a minority community. Statistically, the majority of black smokers (85%), smoke menthol cigarettes. The product is less used by white smokers (35%). Therefore, menthol cigarettes cause more deaths among the African-American population. True, but should this be the basis of policy?

Fundamentally, the policy appears predicated on the premise that the government needs to act to protect a particular ethnic group from its own actions. The clear implication (although not explicitly stated) is that this group (defined by race) is not capable of making rational decisions about their health for themselves and therefore the government must act on their behalf?

I reject this notion outright.

Such an attitude is reminiscent of discriminatory policies that marked the worst of history. Past white prejudice was justified on the supposed superiority of one’s race, “The belief that African-Americans are unintelligent, lazy, violent, and criminals has affected educational outcomes, employment opportunities, socioeconomic status…” Does the current policy not smack of the same type of superior attitude? The specific issues may be different, but the underlying logic is still the same.

Not only does the policy target a product on the basis of race (use by the members of a particular ethnic group), but it also creates secondary consequences that promote policies that specifically reinforce racial differentiation.

Even the ACLU has come out in opposition to the ban on racial grounds albeit with a different justification. They and other civil rights groups “sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary and the acting FDA Commissioner arguing against a menthol ban, claiming that it would perpetuate overpolicing in Black communities.”

This issue has become something of a cause celebre for liberals. It appears to be a way to visibly demonstrate to the black community that they are actively looking out for their interests. On the surface this may seem logical. However, at its heart, it is a policy that constricts personal freedom and promotes racial stereotypes.

This policy puts a particular ethnic group not just in a protected class but treats them as a class that must be protected. Outwardly “progressive,” inwardly deeply regressive and prejudicial.

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